Interview: Coheed And Cambria’s Travis Stever on dueling Claudio Sanchez and breaking free from concepts
Ever since emerging from New York City suburb of Nyack in the late ’90s, Coheed and Cambria have gathered a rabid fan base with epic concept driven rock that electrifies. Revolving around the story of The Amory Wars, a comic book series conceived by frontman Claudio Sanchez, the quartet satisfies the headbangers and the geeks by crossing over mediums. This past fall the band strayed away from their usual approach with the release of The Color Before The Sun, Coheed and Cambria’s first ever non-conceptual album. When news broke out that the record wasn’t continuing the story, a few questions arose among fans asking for the reasons why.
Starting tonight Coheed and Cambria will be playing back-to-back shows at The House Of Blues in Boston, across the street from Fenway Park on Lansdowne Street with fellow New Yorkers Glassjaw, San Francisco alt-prog act I the Mighty, and Los Angeles stage scorchers Silver Snakes.
Ahead of their two night stay in the Fens, Vanyaland spoke with guitarist Travis Stever about why the band decided to go a different route with the new album, his solo project Davenport Cabinet, dueling with Sanchez on guitar, his affinity for string instruments, and what the rest of the year holds.
Rob Duguay: When The Color Before The Sun was released it was announced that it would be the band’s first album not aligned with the storyline of The Amory Wars. What made the band want to go in this direction rather than continue the story?
Travis Stever: That was really more of a Claudio [Sanchez] decision than anything else because he had a group of songs that he had worked on even prior to deciding that it would be a Coheed record. At first, he didn’t really know whether he wanted it to be part of Coheed’s material or not but everybody really loved the songs that he had. Since we hadn’t been outside of that realm he felt more comfortable leading it that way and when the rest of the material came it all sort of fit, it was very personal music for all of us. It’s very personal in a sense that it stood on its own in a certain way. It’s also a matter of wanting to do something a little different, we love having the concepts being involved in our music and we’re not done doing it but every Coheed record is very different. Whether it be musically, even the themes within the concepts, so keeping things different by going outside of that is sort of an intermission. It was how Claudio was the most comfortable and how the band was just full on with it, so that’s really how it came about.
From the outside it seems like you guys were trying to keep things fresh by going that route so it’s understandable how the band would be down to stretch from the norm while planning on getting back towards the concept eventually. Other than being one of the guitarists for Coheed and Cambria, you’re in the ’80s-style metal band Fire Deuce and you have your own solo project Davenport Cabinet. With all the touring Coheed and Cambria does along with being a prolific band how do you find the time to focus on other projects?
I consider the others to be therapeutic, for Davenport Cabinet specifically it’s where I do my therapeutic kind of thing with recording and experimenting. Everybody in Coheed is super multi dimensional and we have all of these different things that we love when it comes to music and the art. It’s almost like we have to stretch out and do different things while Coheed is the figurehead of it all where we all meet up and make this magic together. For me personally, Davenport Cabinet is the place where I bear my soul and do my therapy sessions sonically. From my involvement with Fire Deuce and what I do with that is almost like a sonic party.
I’ve been working on new material with that as well and I like to make it really good. The newest song that was on the re-release of Children Of The Deuce is unique and has these crazy metal vocals but I’m proud of it. Not putting down other things I’ve done with Fire Deuce but I’m really excited to do new things with that project and make it really awesome. It’s almost as if when people hear it they think it’s a joke but they also think it’s amazing. Davenport Cabinet is like I said, that’s my therapeutic place and I also write a lot of stuff with my cousin or we both write our own songs. They’re both different worlds and they’re both very different than Coheed. It’s like I said, Coheed is the main place where I come back to and it’s really home.
While performing live, one thing you and Claudio have a knack for doing is a dueling guitar style where you’ll switch solos back and forth. Have you ever hit a note that Claudio couldn’t match or vice versa?
When it comes to recording we’ve done sessions live and we’ve also done it where we’re cutting guitars and throwing paint at the wall to see what happens. Some really cool stuff has come out of that but we’ve both probably hit some duds while going for it live and even in the studio so yeah, of course. Claudio does stuff live with playing behind the head and he has things that he does and it’s always been like that. While he’s doing all of that I kind of stay in the same place and just play. I think it’s awesome that there’s this contrast with the more showmanship kind of thing.
Another awesome thing — and I’ll flat out say it — is I get to play in a band with a favorite guitar player because I love the way Claudio plays, he’s incredible. He gets to do that crazy shit, he still pulls it off and he plays amazing. I play a little safer but does that mean I don’t hit some duds? Yeah I do. I play it safe and I’m staring at the strings and I’ll still hit some shitty notes, I know that for sure. I don’t think it’s ever been like “Oh he plays that, man I’ll never be able to play that”, we’ve always had a thing where if somebody plays something and we’re trying to play off that we love learning from each other so we’ll figure out exactly what it was and make it really good. Maybe he’s had the mentality of topping other people but that’s not really my thing. It’s probably where the contrast comes from too so maybe it’s a good thing that the two of us exist in these different ways.
Yeah, the both of you play off each other pretty well and it’s like you said, it must be a great learning experience every time you guys play together and you always learn something new.
Absolutely. I’ve learned so much from that dude.
Along with guitar you also play the lap steel, banjo, mandolin and dobro. Outside of guitar with those four other instruments do you have a specific favorite or do you love playing each one for what they are?
I love experimenting with all those things. With Davenport Cabinet and the last record our friend Tom Farkas joined and he played bass on the whole thing but the record before that one I did a lot of bass on it. One instrument outside of the guitar that I’ve always loved experimenting with the most is the bass and with the rest of them I was learning as I was going along and experimenting with sounds. I’ve gotten to play some lap steel on some Coheed stuff and I’ve gotten to experiment with a few things on those records but when it comes to the other instruments that’s really the outside realms where I go crazy with that.
Especially with this last record with doing everything live there are a few overdubs here and there but for the most part the two guitars live, the bass and the drums were hugely present so the other instruments weren’t used that much. Not to say that the next Coheed record might have shit everywhere. I don’t know, we always change it up. I think all of those things are an extension of how much I love to play guitar because I just try to learn those and I end up trying to play them like guitar anyway.
I can totally see why you’d want to play these other string instruments like you’d play your primary instrument. After this current tour in support of The Color Before The Sun what does Coheed and Cambria have planned for further in the year?
There’s no plan fully yet, we’re always working and I can only wish that we were working on new material together but there’s nothing quite planned yet. The Color Before The Sun is still so new that I hope we get to do some more touring because we’re all so proud of it and there are some things in the works. We got Australia and New Zealand coming up but new material would be incredible too so here’s to hoping. I’ll guess we’ll see what happens.
COHEED & CAMBRIA + GLASSJAW + I THE MIGHTY + SILVER SNAKES :: Monday, February 22 and Tuesday, February 23 at the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St. in Boston, MA :: 6 p.m., all ages, $37.50 to $49.50 :: House of Blues event page :: Advance tickets